As a kid, Olivia Chavez was disciplined a lot in school for her “disruptive” behavior. She would often seek out ways to move around and channel her hyperactivity. One incident led to an awkward conversation between the teacher and her mom. That conversation was the “aha” moment for Olivia's family, and put Olivia on the path to an ADHD diagnosis.
Olivia also talks about ADHD and depression, and mentions a time when she felt “paralyzed” and had thoughts of suicide. This is discussed in a context of hope and strength.
If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, help is available today at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
Laura: Hi, everybody. It's Laura. Before you listen, I want to let you know that my guest on this episode, Olivia, shares her experience with depression. And she briefly mentioned that at one point she considered suicide. Olivia's story is one of hope and strength. It resonated deeply with me. I hope it will for you too.
Olivia: I was getting in trouble so often that I was starting to isolate these things like in tapping my legs or in tapping my pen or fidgeting my arms in some way. And then in order to get up, I realized that I had to ask my teacher to go to the bathroom. So, I was asking to go to the restroom so frequently, eventually my teacher had to sit down with my mom and said, "Is your child sick?"
Basically wanting to know if there was something wrong with me, because I so frequently asked to go to the bathroom. And I told her, I'm like, "I just need to get up. I just can't sit in class that whole time." And she realized it might be beneficial if we got me tested for ADHD. And sure enough, that's what it was.
Laura: From the Understood Podcast Network, this is "ADHD Aha," a podcast where people share the moment when it finally clicked that they or someone they know has ADHD. My name is Laura Key. I'm the editorial director here at Understood. And as someone who's had my own ADHD "aha" moment, I'll be your host.
I'm here today with Olivia Chavez. Olivia is an actor and singer living in California. Olivia, so glad you're here with us today.
Olivia: I am very excited to be here.
Laura: Olivia, I would love to start off by hearing from you in your own words describing what you were like growing up.
Olivia: If I can put it gently, I was a lot.
Um, I've always been very hyper, very quirky, and goofy, which are some of my favorite qualities to this day. But I think that I just had a lot of energy and I didn't quite know what to do with it. Or the adults didn't quite know what to do with it, I should say.
Laura: As a kid, can you remember what the hyperactivity felt like in your body, if you could describe it?
Olivia: The hyperactivity really felt like I just had to get up and move. And it was very easy when I was playing outside with my sister and we had a group of kids in the neighborhood where my grandma lived where we would all run around. So there was no issue there. Really, where I noticed it was during school, once I had to be disciplined and listening, or in church as well. That was the most difficult because I felt like I had to get up and move and run around. Or sometimes they would even manifest itself in needing to talk, just any sort of movement in my body. And it was really hard to repress that.
Laura: How did the adults around you react to that kind of behavior?
Olivia: I think the way that my family reacted to it was very different than the way my teachers and authority figures reacted to it. At home, it was expected and fine, and I just had a lot of energy I needed to get out. But in school, I was very much seen as a troublesome student that was very early on labeled as the troublemaker of the class.
Laura: It's interesting that you use the word troublemaker because it doesn't sound like you were actually doing anything that was causing trouble. Right? It was just how you were coping with your hyperactivity.
Olivia: Yeah, it was hard to navigate because I didn't really think what I was doing was wrong. I just wanted to have friends and be chatty and play. And I always really looked forward to recess, but it was often taken away from me because I was a quote unquote "trouble child."
Laura: That sounds really painful. I mean, that, that was a moment during your day when you could let out this energy and feel more like yourself. Is that fair to say?
Olivia: A hundred percent yes.
Laura: How did the kids your age react? Did you have friends growing up? Did you have a lot of friends? Did your behavior impact your relationships in any way?
Olivia: I did not have a lot of friends growing up. I had two really good friends, and it's actually quite funny because my very best friend, who I'm still friends with today, she loves to tell this story. I had been put in time-out for who knows what, and this was in kindergarten. And we were in story time, and she turned back and looked at me, and I waved at her. And she knew that I was a bad kid because I was in time-out. So she turned around and stuck her tongue out at me. And a year later, we were best friends.
Laura: I love that. That's really cute.
Olivia: She's my absolute best friend.
Laura: It sounds like she understood you from the get-go.
Olivia: Yes. I think that when we did get to go out and play, her and I had very similar energy levels, and then there was another girl that she was friends with in her neighborhood and went to school with us. She was a grade ahead of me, but the three of us would always play at recess all the time. We had very out-there sense of humors, and the three of us were just inseparable. But as far as being very well liked or popular, I certainly was not. I was teased very, very much.
Laura: Were there ever days that you just did not want to go to school growing up, or you just flat-out refused even to go to school?
Olivia: Were there? Yes. One thousand percent, more often than you might think. I think every kid has those days, but I just, with the fact that I was being teased by everyone, the fact that school was just so hard for me. I wasn't retaining the information nor did any of the teachers wish to slow down to help me retain that information. And I just felt like it was a constant struggle. Like I was constantly running at a brick wall, and I didn't have help. Nobody wanted to help. Not at school. At home, I had all the help in the world, but nobody wanted to help at school. So why would I want to be there? I wanted to stay home with my mom and watch cartoons, and just not be there.
So I would lie a lot to my mom and say there's no homework. And for a while it was easy to get away with, and then those pink slips and blue slips started piling up, and it all came out eventually.
Laura: Oh, that is so interesting that you bring up lying. It comes up a lot, actually. You know, as I talk to people about ADHD, it's really common for kids with ADHD to lie, and it's not malicious lying. They are little lies to cover up things that are challenging. Can you give me some examples of like, pretend like you're telling a lie. What kinds of things would you say?
Olivia: Oh, geez. It's been so long now. I'm just so perfect. Yeah, I mean, obviously the big one was, oh, there's no homework today. Oh, yeah, I read that book for the book report. Oh, yeah, I've been working on that book report. And then really it was down to the day before and I watched the movie and hoped that the themes would align enough for me to write a paper.
I really hated when my mom was mad at me. That, still to this day, is my least favorite thing in the entire world. I can't stand when she's upset with me. So, I would make up lies to make sure that she didn't get mad at me. So, from little tiny lies to really big ones, I just didn't want her to be mad.
Laura: You don't want to upset Mama. I get it.
Olivia: "No, I didn't eat that slice of cheese, I swear!"
Laura: When were you diagnosed with ADHD?
Olivia: Between third and fifth grade. I can't really pinpoint it. I do remember at my school, they had these things called pink slips and blue slips and yellow slips, and a pink slip was just like a warning to your parents. And then if you got three pink slips, that turned into a blue slip, which was detention. Or sometimes if you did something really bad, you'd just automatically get a blue slip, and you'd have to get them signed by your parents.
And I remember I was stacking up so many, and I didn't want to get in trouble, because my mom didn't really understand what this was either. So, all she knew was I was coming home with warnings and getting in trouble. So, what is a parent to do then to discipline their child and try to fix things at home?
So, I was tired of getting in trouble, so I was stacking these up in my folder and just not having them signed. And then, you know, next thing you knew, they're like, "OK, this is a huge problem." So, they had to bring in somebody to come meet with me and everything. So, then, I started — this was in third grade — I started seeing a therapist once a week that would come in and she would basically play, like, board games with me and stuff and try to figure me out. So, I think that's when the therapy part started. And then in about fifth grade, I think they actually diagnosed me.
Laura: And there was something that happened at school that, you had continuously been like running off to the bathroom, just as a way of coping with your hyperactivity to let some of that energy out. Tell me what happened.
Olivia: Yeah, so, I started to realize that obviously, if you tell a teacher you have to go to the restroom, nine times out of 10, they're going to let you go. So, I found that the only way I was able to get up, because I couldn't just get up and randomly walk around in class. So, I started getting wise and said, "I'll just keep asking to go to the bathroom." And eventually my teacher had to sit down with my mom and said, "Is your child sick? Does your child have a bowel problem?" Or basically wanted to know if there was something wrong with me, because I so frequently asked to go to the bathroom, which obviously there was nothing wrong with me. I just wanted to get up. So, that ended up having to stop because that was no longer working. And then I just figured out how to isolate movements while I was sitting down. So, tapping my foot or shaking my pen in the air, just little things so that I could get my body moving.
Laura: Wow. OK. So, a worry about a bowel issue. I know that, you know, we're learning more and more about ADHD as time goes on. It's just interesting to me, and nothing against your teachers or the school or anything like that — there's a lot of confusion out there about ADHD. But they went straight to bowel issue before considering maybe this young girl is dealing with hyperactivity and needs an outlet.
Olivia: I don't really know, because I was young, but I think when I was growing up it wasn't as openly discussed. And I don't think that this Catholic school that I went to, I don't think they understood because they were just so used to these like really well-behaved children that came in. And I think I was sort of an anomaly at the time.
Laura: So, would you say that that was really the "aha" moment for you and your family?
Olivia: Yeah, I would say so, because I think that was around the time that I was tested. My mom thought the whole thing was funny. Like, she wasn't even remotely worried that it might be a bladder issue. She said, "OK, what are you doing?" So, she kind of sat down with me and said, "OK, well, what's going on?" And I told her, I'm like, "I just need to get up. I just can't sit in class that whole time."
Laura: How did she react, your mom, when you got diagnosed with ADHD?
Olivia: I don't think that she was surprised. My uncle actually had ADHD, so she was familiar with it and she had always told me and still tells me to this day that I'm, like, very similar to my uncle in a lot of ways — which I love. He was my favorite. But I think that she expected this on some level.
It's probably really difficult to hear that. And I think that she wanted me to accept a lot of help for it. But I was teased so much already that I didn't want, for example, they'll give you extra time to take your tests or something like that. And I was like, "Absolutely not, I don't want that," because I was already getting made fun of so much.
I knew that if I got extra time to take a test, the teasing would have just gone through the roof. And so, I just suffered, and I wasn't a terrible student. Even with the ADHD, I still muscled through. It was just harder.
Laura: You got tested again in college, is that right?
Olivia: Yes, I did.
Laura: Why did you decide to have another evaluation?
Olivia: As a lot of people are, in this world, I'm a little extra difficult on myself. And I felt like maybe I didn't really have it and I was just using it as a crutch to be a lazy student, or to say that, "Oh, my grades aren't as good because of this thing." So, I thought it was an excuse I was using. And I was also interested in exploring some medications, because when I was diagnosed as a kid, my mom didn't really want to medicate me.
So, I wanted to explore medication. And so I said, "Well, let me get tested and see if I actually have it. And if I do, let me explore what medication options there are for me."
Laura: That's such a common feeling among a lot of people, myself included. I got diagnosed twice because I didn't believe that I had ADHD. It was like, "OK, I'm just going to work harder. I'm not going to cut myself any slack. I'm going to be super hard on myself." It sounds like you were there as well. Do you still think that ADHD is a crutch?
Olivia: No, I think Tik-Tok has been an amazing resource for me to learn that a lot of the things that I do every day are a result of my ADD, and I think that it's been beautiful for me to see that I'm not alone. It's also really validating to see, oh, that thing that I do constantly that maybe somebody in my life might've told me was annoying, or maybe that people harp on me a lot for like something simple, like being late. I had no idea that could be a factor because it was like, even when I was cognizant of it and I was like, I will not be late, I will not be late, I will not be late, it still happened even though I wanted it so badly not to. Just little things like that, learning that these are all factors in ADHD. It's been really nice to kind of have that validation and realize that I'm not crazy. I'm not crazy, I'm not lazy, I'm not useless.
Like, little things that you tell yourself when you have ADHD. It's just nice to have a community of people who are knowledgeable and can help explain what's going on. I'm coming to find I need to be a little bit more kind to myself, because I'm very hard on myself and learning all of these things that, OK, this is a real disease. And these are symptoms that I have, and I can just learn from it and try to be a little bit kinder to myself. And then I can get through every day and not be sad.
Laura: It is just so exciting these days to see more and more people come out of the woodwork and talk openly about ADHD and not sweep it under the rug.
Do you ever get in a really low mood?
Olivia: Yes. And that was one of the greatest things that I learned about ADHD through Tik-Tok. I tried to explain it to my mom a couple of times, and I said, "I have all this passion and all this drive to perform. Like, that's what I want to do. I want to perform for my job. And that's what I want to do for a living."
I've always had such a strong passion for it, but then I look at this mountain that I have to climb to get there. And I said, oh, I've got to do this thing and this thing and this thing. And then the list of things that need to get done start piling up. And I just get really down, and I curl up into a ball on my bed, and I cry, and I don't do anything.
I think it's called paralysis, ADHD paralysis, or something like that, where you just shut down completely. And it doesn't mean you don't want this thing. It doesn't mean that you're not trying to as hard as the next person. It just means that you are literally paralyzed by the idea of all of the things that need to get done.
So, when I learned that, it actually answered a lot of things for me, because I've suffered with depression as well, which I now realize is all entangled in that beautiful ADHD web of mine. But I mean, I've definitely gotten a lot better. And knowing that's part of it has been really helpful, because I think just being aware of something can help you push past it.
Laura: Yeah. I mean, we know that ADHD can create so many challenges, like the ones that you've been describing. And facing those challenges day after day, and sometimes not being able to tackle the challenges that you want to tackle, can lead to low self-esteem and feelings of depression.And you're right, it is tangled. There's kind of a chicken and egg thing with ADHD and depression. But one thing is sure that if you have ADHD, you're more likely to have depression than if you don't have ADHD. Some people think that kids with ADHD or people with ADHD are prewired for depression. Did you ever feel depressed or down like that, growing up, that you remember?
Olivia: Yeah. A hundred percent. I'm about to get real deep with you right now. I was suicidal for quite a while. I just didn't really see a solve. I felt like there were so many things about me that I wanted to change. And if I could just chill out, if I could just be normal, and I felt like everything just kind of piled on top of each other.
And I felt like a burden to my family — to my mom specifically. I just really felt like I wasn't somebody she could be proud of. And I felt like being gone would have been easier for everybody. Even talking about it now, it's really hard to talk about, because I'm so glad that I didn't. I'm so glad that I am where I am now and that I can sit here and talk to you about this and just be on the other side of it, because I'm so excited about where my life is now. And I think that there are probably so many other people in the position that I was who don't see a way out. And if you're listening, there is, it gets so much better.
So, it was scary for a while. Just that feeling of helplessness. It's a hard thing to go through.
Laura: Oh, I'm so sorry that you went through that, and I'm so grateful that you shared that. How do you think you did pull through? What was it that kept you going?
Olivia: The people in my life who did understand — my mom and my sister and my dad, my immediate family, my aunts and uncles. I just had the greatest support system. And my mom maybe didn't understand everything. There may be still to this day things that she's like, "Olivia, I just don't get that. You can try to explain it to me, but I just don't get it." And even though she still has moments like that, she just supports me. And she's just like, I got you. I'm here for you.
And when I was at my lowest, my sister told me she was pregnant, and I just had this whole new reason to live. And my niece is 7 now and she's my entire world. And I'm just so thankful for her, because every day I've got this beautiful, gorgeous being that makes me so happy every day.
And I see so much of myself in her, like the quirkiness and the fun. I see that in her. And it's just so great, because those are — some of my favorite things about her are the parts of me that I see in her.
Laura: You realize that you're creating that community right now for other people. Like the thing that pulled you through that dark period in your life, you're helping with that for other people right now who may be listening and may be dealing with the same thing that you coped with growing up, and as an adult, and that's a really brave thing to do. And I commend you.
Olivia: Well thank you. I mean, in sharing this, I do hope that I help somebody else, because it's not an easy thing to talk about. And I think that being where I am now, and — I'm not perfect, I still have days where I just want to shut the door and cry for a little while. But I think that knowing where I've been helps with the moments where I feel like that, because I'm just such a different person now, and I can't say "it gets better" enough. It really, really does. And those darkest moments, I'm thankful for them at this point.
Laura: What do you love about your ADHD brain?
Olivia: Hm, what's great is that, I think it's almost part of my personality, that, like, quirky and fun and that "oh wait, did I finish that sentence?" thing about me is one of my favorite things. I think that, like, the energy that I have is beautiful, honestly, and I think that has a lot to do with my ADHD brain, because I'm constantly trying to catch up with myself. And it's fun.
Laura: And I think that the media often, like, catches on to a lot of the fun or funnier aspects of ADHD, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. It's cool that people lean into that and it can be part of the conversation. What I worry about that sometimes, I don't want people to forget that ADHD is real, and it's hard, and it creates real challenges. And when ADHD is coupled up with something like depression or anxiety, it becomes, as you said, like, this tangled web.
Olivia: Yeah. I agree with you, and I still struggle when it comes to creativity. Because I do love to write, but sometimes I'll sit down with a pen and paper and all my motivation has gone, or it just seems like too big a task. So, every day is something different, but I do think that my ADHD brain contributes to my creativity.
Laura: You've been listening to "ADHD Aha," from the Understood Podcast Network. You can listen and subscribe to "ADHD Aha" on Apple, Spotify, or anywhere you get your podcasts. And if you like what you heard today, tell someone about the show. We rely on listeners like you to reach and support more people. And if you want to share your own "aha" moment, email us at ADHDAha@understood.org. I'd love to hear from you. You can go to u.org/ADHDAha to find details on each episode and related resources. That's the letter U, as in Understood, dot O R G, slash ADHD Aha.
Understood is a nonprofit and social impact organization. We have no affiliation with pharmaceutical companies. Learn more at understood.org/mission.
"ADHD Aha" is produced by Jessamine Molli. Say hi, Jessamine.
Jessamine: Hi, everyone.
Laura: Justin D. Wright created our music. Seth Melnick and Briana Berry are our production directors. Scott Cocchiere is our creative director. And I'm your host, Laura Key, editorial director at Understood. Thanks so much for listening.
If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, help is available today at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can reach them at 1-800-273-8255. Or visit their website, suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
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is executive director of editorial at Understood and host of the ADHD Aha! podcast.